A thick fog separated Captain Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville from the rest of his French squadron in Hudson Bay on September 5, 1697. When his famous ship, the Pélican, finally happened upon York Factory, d’Iberville’s crew disembarked to investigate. d'Iberville found himself alone and in hostile company.
Three ships were approaching from the distance and as they neared, d’Iberville discovered that it was an English fleet. Remarkably, d’Iberville decided to take the English on single-handedly and after a dramatic battle that lasted all day, the English ships showed their colours in surrender. The French seized control of York Factory — an important Hudson's Bay Company trading post.
It was a victory against all odds, and while the Battle of Hudson Bay might not get much real estate in the textbooks, it was an important moment in Canada’s colonial history.
In 2013 David Smith and Chris Milligan published a historical novel based on this lesser-known battle called Check Mate! The book follows the journeys of the French and English ships to Hudson Bay, and explores multiple perspectives through the eyes of the two main characters — two twelve-year-old boys on opposite sides of the battle.
Listen to our interview with co-author David Smith
David Smith says the drama and excitement of the Battle of Hudson Bay provides an engaging lens through which students can learn about the fur trade, and the French and English colonial struggles in Canada.
“d’Iberville’s victory meant an important boost in the fur trade in France,” Smith explains. “On the other hand, it meant a financial loss to the Hudson’s Bay Company and a lost territory link to England.”
Smith also points out that the battle is “geographically unique,” being the most important battle to take place in Canada’s northern waters.
A companion website, CheckMateBook.com, features additional material not included in the book, allowing students and teachers to delve more deeply into the topic and engage with primary sources. Among the online resources include 17th century maps, eyewitness accounts of the battle, and extracts from the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick.
“Teachers of history can use the book as an adjunct to Canadian history course,” says Smith. “To show how these events affected not only royalty and business people and investors, but how they affected very ordinary people.”
David and Chris hope that teachers use the materials to come up with their own creative projects, and see today’s technology as a gateway into some interesting questions.
“What would have happened in the Battle of Hudson Bay if Captain Fletcher and Captain d’Iberville both had access to weather forecasts?” Smith wonders. “What might captain d’Iberville and Fletcher have Tweeted during the final moments of engagement if they had access to that kind of technology?”
Those are some of the author's suggestions, but Smith knows that teachers will use the material in a variety of ways.
“A lot of teachers will exercise their own creativity to devise activities to meet the needs and interest of their students and to engage them in meaningful learning of Canadian history.”
Visit Chapters-Indigo to order your copy or CheckMateBook.com to order your copy for the classroom or view the online resources. You can also view this guide to the online materials, provided by co-author Chris Milligan.